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Re: Lighting Some Flames: Towards conlang artistry

From:Peter Clark <pc451@...>
Date:Tuesday, March 12, 2002, 15:34
   Well, it's still early in the morning here in the Rebel Colonies,
but already it looks like a hot day on Conlang. (Heat, of course, is
relative; a fifty degree day in March here in Minnesota is an excuse to
go out in shorts and a t-shirt. :)
   If I may summerize what I'm hearing others say: the idea of creating
schools to critique conlangs has been met by a generally negative
response. I'll add my voice to the "nays" in a moment, but I want to
praise Jesse for the instinct that he has.
   I can well understand his frustration. Back when I joined this list,
I could post some grammatical ideas and expect to get some _serious_
response. Things like, "Have you considered X?" or "What happens in
situation Y?" or "This would get far too complex in Z, if this were my
language, I'd take it back to the drawing board." Sometimes, I felt a
little tinge of pain, seeing my baby disected so, but then I reminded
myself that I had posted to the list for exactly that purpose. I don't
generally save email, but I saved _and_ *printed* those responses,
because they were so helpful. So Jesse, I agree with your instinct; I
for one would love to post a managable chunk of grammar and have
several people pick it apart.
   But if you will permit me to be negative for a moment, setting up
"schools" is not the way to do it. I was an English major (Planned
Poverty, I call it) in college, and had to suffer through the various
"schools." Let's see if I can remember all five: Marxist, Feminist,
Psychoanalytic, Reader-Response, and...darn, I forgot. You know what?
It was all a bunch of bull. You know who ends up in literary schools?
The ones who can't write. They can't write decent literature to save
their skins, so they fill up journal after journal with this phony
nonsense. I was so happy to get out of that and into the creative
writing classes. There, no one ever said one word about "schools". We
would read each other's works, try to understand what the author was
trying to communicate, and comment on how well the plot structure and
devices aided toward the communication of that idea and how successful
we felt the writing to be. _That_ is the only "school" I will ever
believe in, because it doesn't limit me to one set of glasses. Getting
genuine feedback from others *who knew that they were talking about*
was extremely valuable, infinitely more so than trying to read a
classic through a Marxist critique, especially when the author predated
   Ok, enough rant. So, once again, I applaud your instinct, but
discourage your solution. If we as a group commit to more in-depth
analysis and study of each other's languages, we would do quite well.
If we could figure out a way to dedicate a period of time, say a week,
to the detailed examination of one conlang, that would be wonderful, as
it would reduce the distraction created by other examinations.
   Conlanging is an art, but I don't want it to become "ART" (said with
a very nasal tone.) It would suck the life, the fun out of conlanging
if we suddenly had to deal with intellectual snobbery. I come from the
world of literature, where the snobbery is so thick you can cut it with
a knife. That's not what I want to see happen. We don't need to be like
everybody else. After all, we clearly are not like everyone else. :) We
are practicers of the domestic art, the quiet hobby, the silent
symphony. I don't want my conlang to become a vehicle of some
"message." It is because it is. Critique it for its success in reaching
its desired goals, but let's not seek to turn conlanging into something
that it is not.
   My two mites,

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John Cowan <jcowan@...>
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